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Beginnings Made Easy:

Lara reviews 3 Beginner Belly Dance DVDs

Basics, Improv, First Shows!

DVD Reviews by Lara Adrienne
posted April 4, 2011

The three videos discussed in this review are:

  • “The American Dancer Series, Volume 1” by Cassandra,
  • “Belly Dance Show Basics for Beginners” by Tanna Valentine, and
  • “The Improvisational Toolkit, Part 1” by Nadira Jamal.

Cassandra’s video focuses on basic technique, Tanna Valentine’s on a dancer’s first show, and Nadira’s DVD is geared to the dancer who wishes to begin or improve improvisational performing. They all contain valuable information for their targeted audiences.

Cassandra intro“The American Dancer Series Volume I” by Cassandra

There is great instruction on this DVD, but it lacks oomph!
This beginner level DVD, produced in 1997, starts with a full-length on-stage solo by Cassandra. Cassandra’s performance showcases her rich dance vocabulary, understanding of the music, and impressive flexibility.

She is very comfortable on stage, a pleasant dancer to watch and has particularly fluid, graceful arms and hands. However, the production quality of the solo portion is not high; it is grainy, detracting from the viewer’s enjoyment.

Following her performance, Cassandra appears in a no-frills setting and plain workout clothes, introduces herself, and emphasizes the importance of proper posture. She takes the viewer through a short series of warm-up exercises, encouraging students to do more repetitions than are done in the video. She describes both the warm-up exercises and the dance movements clearly and completely, minimizing the risk of injury to the practitioner.

Cassandra explains concisely several basic arm, ribcage, and hip exercises, using body imagery to help the viewer understand the source of the movement and how to create it. Following the introduction of moves, Cassandra does a few basic traveling combinations as well as a short lead-and-follow dance section. Again, her explanation throughout the video is very clear, a bit serious, and easy to understand and visualize. I would recommend this video to anyone who is fairly new to Belly dance, the absolute beginners, and to the beginner level Belly dance student who needs more explanation to “get it”.

3 zil rating
Rating:  3 zils

Show Basics by Tanna“Belly Dance Show Basics for Beginners” byTanna Valentine

First learn to dance, then watch this video!
Tanna Valentine’s three-hour DVD is beautiful, professionally produced, and has an interesting concept: how to create a full Belly dance show from start to finish. It includes a lot of information, from the history of the American Cabaret stage show, to basic posture, introduction of moves, staging a show, costuming ideas, and a make-up tutorial.

The video is geared toward dancers who have been taking Belly dance lessons for awhile and want to perform for family, friends, or a “special someone”, but perhaps, are not yet familiar with the components of a full-length show.

A considerable portion of the DVD is a choreography section. The choreography demonstrated in the video is less of a choreography and more of a sequence of basic moves that can be applied to different songs, but doesn’t necessarily belong with any specific songs; it is a loose choreography. This segment of the DVD provides several good examples of what types of moves to use in your entrance, veil, audience participation, chiftetelli/floorwork, drum solo sections, and explains the emotional quality of each section. (As a dancer who does mostly Egyptian style veil–I swish it around a few times and get rid of it–I learned a few tricks in the veil section.)

During this choreography, or “moves” section, Tanna briefly covers the mechanics of a hip shimmy, snake arms, hip drop, figure 8s, simple traveling steps, and other beginner moves. There were a few explanations of movements (for instance, using feet and ankles to drive a vertical hip figure 8, and the “busy-knee” shimmy), that would be considered by some instructors to be an improper explanation of technique. Tanna does not claim that this video is a substitute for Belly dance training and encourages the viewer to find a local teacher in addition to this DVD.

There is also a significant amount of time spent on costuming. Throughout the video, Tanna appears in several gorgeous professional costumes, but there is also a section dedicated to describing the most basic of costumes to the most elaborate professional costumes, and how to create your own for an amateur show for an intimate audience, a really creative and fun part of the video. She followed this with a basic, but valuable tutorial on how to do performance make-up.

I would recommend this video, not only to the dancer who would like to do a performance at home or for friends, but also as a good tool for the pre-professional (the dancer who knows how to dance but doesn’t yet know how to give a show).

3 zil rating
Rating:  3.25 zils


Nadira's Toolkit“Improvisational Toolkit” by Nadira Jamal

I loved this video! My first impressions were critical. My inner glamor-queen wanted to know why Nadira didn’t wear heavier makeup with her bedlah in the performance section and cover photo. While fast-forwarding through the chapters,

I noticed the “noodling” exercise and felt skeptical, thinking that it looked rather silly. However, Nadira quickly grew on me!

The video starts with a basic warm-up. I quite liked the “conductor stretch” for deeper relaxation in the neck followed by “noodling” exercises to help the dancer discover movements that she enjoys. Between explaining, then demonstrating the exercises, Nadira replaces herself with an image of picturesque of Istanbul, allowing the dancer time to practice what has been introduced without visual cues from the instructor. The exercise is accompanied by a “journaling exercise”, something that is often helpful but usually neglected in dance practice.

Nadira gives several cues to awaken the moves that are already in a dancer’s movement vocabulary, and different ways to use moves she already knows. The drills of “safety moves” call upon the dancer to identify, vary, and transition between movements with which she is most comfortable, and Nadira’s verbal cues during both the safety moves drills and the “plug and play” choreography stimulate creativity. A dancer using video may be impressed by her own inventiveness.

This video could be helpful for someone who is new to performing, a dancer who relies heavily on choreography, or a more seasoned dancer who may be comfortable improvising, but wants to explore new ways to use her skills.

Zil Rating- 4
Rating: 4 zils


There is something valuable to be gained by watching each of these videos.

Cassandra’s video contains excellent descriptions of technique for the beginner student who has had very little to no experience Belly dancing, or the beginner student who is struggling in a “follow the bouncing butt” class and craves more detailed breaking down of moves. Tanna Valentine’s video is both entertaining and has valuable tips, tricks about nearly every aspect of structuring and executing one’s very first Belly dance show. Nadira Jamal’s DVD teaches a creative and useful approach to improvisation for performance, and may give the dancer an opportunity to realize just how much she already knows as well as the confidence to use it.

While all three are classified as “basic” level videos, one is geared to the absolute beginner, another to the newer dancer ready to perform, and the third to the performer who is ready to graduate from choreography to improvisation; a dancer should take care to choose the correct one for her current developmental stage.


is available through

Turquoise Intl
$for 34.95


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